The Bambatha Tax Rebellion: “Exterminate the Brutes”

Here’s how the press back home covered the Bambatha Rebellion. From the Spectator:

The Native Peril in South Africa

We do not think that too much importance should be attached to the present native trouble in Natal. So far as the facts appear, the disturbances would seem to be isolated and inconsiderable. A Poll-tax has been recently introduced into that Colony to supplement the Hut-tax, and is levied upon the young bloods of a tribe who have no kraals of their own. About fourteen miles from Pietermaritzburg there is a small settlement of Christianised Kaffirs belonging to the Mvelis tribe, who announced their intention of resisting the new levy. Accordingly, when on a detachment of the Natal Police was sent to collect it, some forty natives ambushed the party, and in the fight which followed an inspector and a trooper were killed and another inspector wounded. The rest made their escape, martial law was proclaimed, and the following day a strong force of Natal Carabineers went out to find the murderers, who had fled to the difficult bush country around the source of the Umkomaas River. Imperial troops were offered from the Transvaal to supplement the resources of the local authorities. The other native tribes have remained quiet, and the Mvelis chief has volunteered to assist in the capture of the offenders, who are said not to exceed fifty in number. So far the trouble seems nothing more than a violent breach of the peace by a few unruly natives. The only sinister facts in the case are that the Mvelis are Christianised, and apparently under the influence of the Ethiopian movement. Hitherto it has been believed that Natal was almost exempt from that ill-omened propaganda, but if rumour speaks true, it shows that it has wider ramifications than was supposed, and is capable of stirring its votaries to active rebellion.

The article goes on to do some crystal ball reading and speculation and unashamed open plotting for how best to keep black Africans under the thumb of their foreign white “Paramount.” There are no further details about the tax rebellion, however. The second paragraph closes with this remarkable sentence: “If there should arise a leader among this vast people, or if some common grievance against their white masters should coerce them into unity, it is hard to see what could save South African civilisation except a long and terrible war and the extermination of the malcontents.” Civilization has never sounded so worth saving!